Talking about estate planning with your loved ones isn’t always easy. In fact, it can sometimes feel a bit morbid and uncomfortable for everyone involved. However, having frank conversations now can be a valuable gift for those you care about most, helping avoid or limit frustration, confusion, and other potential issues later. When you’re able to engage in an open dialogue with loved ones, you can make sure they understand the reasoning behind your decisions. Such conversations can also help heirs feel prepared, so when the time comes to execute your plan, they are not in the dark.
Here are four tips that can help make family estate planning discussions somewhat easier for you and everyone involved:
1. Start Early (and Repeat)
While it makes sense to hold off on talking about specifics with young children, there is no reason you cannot engage your children and grandchildren in discussions about your personal and family values starting at a young age. Talking generally about what’s most important to you can help create a common understanding for your legacy. Having age-appropriate discussions with adult children, and with your nominated personal representative, trustee, attorney-in-fact, and health care agent is the best way to ensure your wishes will be honored and carried out. Don’t wait until you become ill or until a crisis strikes.
However, having the conversation once is just the start (and a good start). There are some key life occurrences that call for an updated estate plan, and possibly updated conversations as well. You can learn more about those here.
2. Choose a Relaxed, Comfortable Environment
Where you choose to have family estate planning discussions, the location matters too. As a rule of thumb, choose a time and place where your loved ones are likely to be relaxed and comfortable when you expect them to have the time and mental focus to understand and participate in the conversation.
You may choose to have one-on-one talks with different family members followed by a group discussion, or to start with a group discussion followed by individual conversations. There is not any single “right” approach to having this dialogue. Keep in mind that you want everyone to feel comfortable and not caught off guard, understanding that you are having the conversation for their benefit.
3. Be as Clear and Straightforward as Possible
Just as important as the message itself is the way you deliver it. Try to be clear, not vague. To the extent you are comfortable doing so, share your specific wishes and guidance with the amount of detail you feel is appropriate.
You should not feel like you need to share specific dollar amounts or details about your financial assets and holdings. However, keep in mind that the more context you can provide, the more informed your loved ones will be when the time comes for them to play a role in administering your estate.
It can also be effective to break up the conversation into multiple meetings, with each meeting covering a different topic (i.e. family values, health care wishes, managing your estate during periods of incapacity, and your wishes for your legacy and estate administration after your death.) Consider using an agenda for your meetings. While this may seem overly formal for a family meeting, it can help provide focus, so you cover everything you want to cover.
4. Understand, Expect, and Encourage Questions
You should also expect that your loved ones may have questions about the information you share with them, but that it can take them some time to digest the conversation before they’re ready to clarify what you’ve shared. Provide time during your family meeting for people to raise concerns, and ask questions, as this can help ensure everyone is on the same page after the discussion. Engaging in this type of open conversation isn’t just good for your beneficiaries. It can also help you think about things you hadn’t considered before, leading to potential changes and improvements in your plan.
Discuss Your Wishes Now to Help Your Loved Ones Later
Discussions with your loved ones about your estate planning wishes are delicate, but it’s important to have them. Doing so can help keep the peace between your loved ones, ultimately helping them navigate through difficult decisions when you’re not here to guide them anymore.
Ready to learn more about how to effectively begin your estate planning? Download our free resource: The Busy Family’s Guide to Estate Planning.